The British Space Programme 1962 - 1971: Projects Cancelled
The British Space Programme 1962-1971: Projects Cancelled
Since the dawn of time, man has gazed at the stars and wondered what lies beyond. The Americans and Russians have arguably cornered the imagination with their respective space programmes and the race to put man both into space and on the moon, but what of Britain's involvement? The British have long been at the forefront of scientific achievement but ultimately don't seem to have garnered the respect of the likes of NASA. This documentary tells the story of the British Space Programme from 1962 until 1971, with a couple of bonus features on both the HOTOL project of the 1980's and the ill-fated Beagle-2 project of the new millenium.
Mainly consisting of archive footage with its original narration, the documentary explores the progression of the British space projects Blue Streak, Black Knight and Black Arrow. Each in turn showed massive potential but all were cancelled due to both budgetary concerns of the incumbent Government and a lack of vision. The final project, Black Arrow, actually successfully launched the European satellite Prospero into space after the cancellation of the project by the UK Government, which gave Britain the distinction of being only the sixth nation to successfully place a satellite into orbit using its own indigenously developed rocket system.
The problem with this documentary is that while it uses fascinating archive footage, the use of said footage is also its downfall. Some of the footage is rather banal such as the transporation of the rockets from the UK to Australia whilst on the other hand some of it attempts to show complex engineering accomplishments without really providing a decent explanation of where it fits in. There is no attempt at dumbing down, so the original archive material was clearly meant for a scientific audience, but therefore doesn't really provide enough context or a decent explanation of where it fits for the layman viewer like myself.
The two bonus features are purely compiled news footage and doesn't really do either project justice, although they do provide the layman's prespective missing from the main feature as well as highlighting Professor Colin Pillinger's massive facial hair. So that's fine.
Ultimately I guess the message from this release is that the British involvement in aerospace technology was not limited to our imagination and the TV screens via Quatermass, but something quite substantial that was let down by lack of budgeting and vision by successive Government's of either political persuasion. One of the key messages is the realisation that to this day, the United Kingdom has the extremely dubious distinction of being the only country to have successfully developed its own delivery system for satellite launch before completely abandoning it.
As with most great technical achievements in the modern world, Britain could have been a competitor due to our technical expertise but is only seen through a prism of failure.